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Bullying remains a significant workplace issue

If there’s ever a time to invest in cultivating a mentally healthy workplace, it’s now.  With a 65% increase in claims since 2002/03, Bullying remains a significant workplace health and safety issue –  that negatively impacts the workplace culture and the mental health of workers.

There are many ways that a business can drive down harassment/bullying claims, however it is management commitment that is the vital component for risk reduction. Safe Work Australia’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying identifies that demonstrated senior management commitment in identifying, preventing, and responding to workplace bullying is one of the key factors for preventing unreasonable behaviour and managing psychological risks.

In the case of Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd [2015] the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded an employee over $1.3 million in damages after finding that her employer, Winslow Constructions was negligent in failing to provide a safe working environment and allowing her to be subjected to extensive abuse, sexual harassment and bullying by her colleagues.

The process for reporting the inappropriate behaviour was limited.  Ms Mathews foreman was responsible for directing offensive comments.  Ms Mathews reported one matter to someone in the organisation she believed was responsible for Human Resources.  They responded with a comment suggesting her to go their house, have a drink and talk about it.

The devastation of workplace bullying was shocking in the landmark case of Café Vamp.  In 2010, Café Vamp were fined a total of $335,000 for repeatedly bullying, or allowing bullying to occur to an employee, Brodie Panlock, who at the time was 19 years old.

Brodie took her own life after enduring relentless bullying from three Café Vamp colleagues.  The death of Brodie Panlock led to a Victorian Coroner’s inquest.  The outcome of this inquest identified the most serious case of bullying.

WorkSafe Victoria issued charges against Café Vamp and, as a result they were convicted and fined MAP Foundation was ordered to pay $220,000 for failure to provide and maintain a safe working environment.  Cafe owner Marc Luis Da Cruz was liable as an officer and ordered to pay $30,000.  Manager Nicholas Smallwood, Rhys MacAlpine, and Gabriel Toomey failed to take reasonable care and were each fined $45,000, $30,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Magistrate Peter Lauritsen described the atmosphere at the café as poisonous and the culture vicious and unacceptable.

The persistent bullying Brodie was exposed to posed a number of health and safety risks:

Bullying - Health and Safety Risks

More recently, a well-known clothing chain has received media attention in relation to a former employee suing the company over claims of bullying and unreasonable work hours.  The former employee, Ms Robinson is suing the company for over $500,000 in damages related to alleged bullying by her area manager.  It is alleged that the area manager called Ms Robinson demeaning names, picked on her because of her weight and bullied her via social media.

Ms Robinson lawyer claims that Ms Robinson reported the bullying to her State manager, however the company failed to take any appropriate or reasonable steps to remedy the abuse.  Ms Robinson’s lawyers said she has suffered a major depressive episode, and anxiety.

The company rejects the allegations.

Prevalence of workplace bullying in our workplaces

Safe Work Australia statistics published highlight the rate of harassment/bullying claims has increased by 65% since 2002-03.

A typical harassment/bullying claim payment is $22,600 and 9.4 weeks being the typical time off work.

The highest rates of harassment/bullying published by Safe Work Australia are recorded in the following sectors


The positive news is that since its peak in 2010-11, the rate of harassment/bullying has started trending down.

What employers can do to drive down the rate of harassment/bullying claims further?

Establishing standards of behaviour doesn’t belong only in the company policy.  Managers and leaders of the organisation must model the workplace behaviour values and standards through their own conduct.

It is important for workers to observe workplace behaviour standards positively adopted by their management team.  It can send a clear message to the workforce that the company is serious about cultivating a healthy and safe workplace and positive culture.

Commitment to managing workplace behaviour can be demonstrated by managers in a multitude of ways.  These include:

  • modelling respectful behaviours at all times
  • developing and implementing a bullying policy which clearly identifies the expected behaviours and consequences of not complying
  • dealing with unreasonable behaviour as soon as they become aware of it
  • ensuring that reports of bullying are taken seriously and properly investigated, and
  • consulting with workers.

Management commitment is only one part of managing workplace bullying.  For more information about workplace bullying and tools for preventing and resolving workplace bullying, download WorkPro’s Workplace Bullying – What You Need to Know ebook.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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